Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash

We’e been running our Youth Attitudes to Sustainability survey for a full year now, and during that time we’ve collected the opinions of nearly 2,000 young people aged between 12 and 25 from across the UK and Internationally. We’ve also just finished editing and re-releasing the survey for it’s second year and are looking forward to an even bigger uptake, and understanding of what young people are thinking.

You can take the Youth Sustainability Attitudes Survey Here.

Over the past month we’ve been busy analysing all the responses we’ve had so far. Reading, listening, counting, and learning. Those responses are now available; a short report can be found on our Sustainability Attitudes Page, and a full report is available to our members through our Members Area. Please let us know if you are interested in becoming a SEEd Member.

But why youth voice anyway? Why does it matter so much that we know what young people are thinking? Why should youth voice inform our work?

For a few years I held a youth worker position; facilitating young people coming together and being a voice for youth in their local community by running community projects. One of the first things we did with every new group, and at every training event we held, was ask the youth involved what they thought the biggest issue for young people was. This was invariably a slightly different answer for each group as they were all in different towns, but what struck me was that the answers they gave were never what I thought they’d be. Now, at 24/25, I wasn’t too far from being a youth myself, but already there was a gap between what I imagined young people were thinking, and what they were actually thinking. This literally blew me away.

Youth Voice and Youth Participation Youth Work is centred around the understanding that young people have a right to have a voice and be heard on matters that concern them, and to work alongside the adult decision makers. This comes partly from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 12 states that Young People have a right to be listened to and to be taken seriously. Guidance can also be taken from the National Youth Agency’s Hear By Right Standards which helps organisations and practitioners to keep youth voice at the heart of their decision making. But why should youth voice be at the heart of decision making? Because adults decisions affect young people’s futures, whether directly through decisions and changes such as to schooling, or indirectly through decisions on national matters young people are currently often deemed too young to take a part in.

The second thing that blew me away was a conversation I had with some young people about Sustainability, and they said;

‘What’s that?’

I took two things from that question.

The first was that in my echo chamber I hear a lot about how concerned young people are; about the Fridays for Future School Strikes; about Greta; about the XR Youth; and of course all the things that are going on locally in my hometown. But when I stepped outside of that I found a different story, and this got me thinking about how easy it is to hear a few stories and make a generalisation, and how susceptible we are to the news that we’re given through our chosen media outlets.

The second was that it highlighted there is still a proportion of young people who are not being taught about sustainability and climate change. How can this be the case? In a society where there are worldwide strikes for Climate Justice, where reports from Government bodies estimate how long we have until we enter runaway Climate Breakdown, where there are already climate refugees in parts of the world… in a world where these things are happening now how can we not be teaching our youth about them? This frightens me.

So I imagined what we might find if we asked all the young people in the country what they knew, what they thought, and what they were taught about sustainability and climate change. What would they say? Do our youth care about sustainability, do they even know about it, are they equipped with the tools to be able to help build a sustainable future, and what can we do to support them? I realised that there was no way I could possibly know the truth of it unless I went out and asked all those young people, because they were the only ones that could truthfully tell me.

So we designed the Youth Attitudes to Sustainability Surveys, beginning with the question; What do you think of if I say Sustainability? Because we want to know where young people are really at, not just what the media is telling is. We want to understand whether young people are learning about sustainability, and if so, where they are learning that from. And we want to use that information to inform the work that we do, so that we can design projects and carry out work that has young people’s voices embedded into it, and so that we can help young people discover the tools and understanding that they need to help build their sustainable future.

Young People; what do you want from us? How can we help you?

Children’s Sustainability Attitudes Survey (Age 7 – 11)

Youth Sustainability Attitudes Survey (Age 12 – 25)

Adult Sustainability Attitudes Survey (Age 26+)